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The Truth About Anxiety, Part 2

In my last post (The Truth About Anxiety, Part 1), I mentioned that anxiety typically has two common causes.

The first was insecurity. Makes sense, right? Feeling insecure is a simple recipe for anxiety, especially when bad things have happened in the past, or could realistically happen in the future.

The second common cause is emotional constipation – the buildup of suppressed emotions.

If insecurity is the outcome of external threats, emotional constipation creates internal ones.

When emotions are suppressed, internal pressure builds. Resources have to be allocated to head off an explosion.

Living under the threat of an unwanted emotional outburst creates insecurity. And we already know that insecurity’s henchman is anxiety.

Unemployed, Anxiety Out of Control

Meet Larry. He’s not an actual person — I never write about real individuals — but he has characteristics I’ve seen in many people, including myself.

Larry, an accountant, learned early in life that it was pointless to have feelings about something unless you were prepared to do something about it.

As a boy, if Larry was annoyed about the weather turning bad just in time for a softball game, he wouldn’t express it. He’d just suck it up, as they say, and play in the rain “like a man.”

If he was nervous about a test in school, he wouldn’t admit it, even if asked. There was nothing he could do about it, and being nervous wouldn’t help him on the test. So he tried not to think about it.

Cut to the present. When Larry lost his job recently, he was devastated. But he didn’t express it. There was nothing he could do about it, and he’d learned too well how to hide his feelings.

Unemployment often creates insecurity (we might say it removes the illusion of security). It’s anxiety-provoking almost no matter what. But Larry’s anxiety is doubled because of his emotional constipation.

Larry has developed a habit of  experiential avoidance. He tries to suppress uncomfortable feelings by not thinking too much about the layoff. Instead, he distracts himself with other activities and concerns.

However, on some level Larry is aware of a whole bunch of painful feelings buried inside. Those yucky feelings might rise up at any time and express themselves.

Larry feels out of control with respect to his emotions. Hence the anxiety.

If Larry were actively in touch with his emotions, he wouldn’t need to fear them and they wouldn’t cause anxiety.

Unemployment is anxiety-provoking enough without emotional constipation making things worse.

What to Do About Emotional Constipation

Do you avoid your own difficult feelings, too?

For best results in the worst of times, don’t try to ignore your emotions. Let them flow within you, even as you train your brain on getting results “out there.” Don’t waste your energy trying to control what’s “in here.”

Remember that no one has ever been injured just by riding a wave of emotion.  If you’re feeling bad about what’s happening in your life, it’s a good bet your feelings are working exactly as they should.

As long as you let them be, your emotions will change when your circumstances change.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado.
She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations.
The author of “Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them” and the “Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children,” Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships.
Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called “Constructive Wallowing.”

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0 Responses to "The Truth About Anxiety, Part 2"

  • Rosie
    August 18, 2012 - 9:31 am Reply

    When you have been raised to not show your emotions, it is hard to realize that it is ok to have emotions. And the FEAR of allowing anyone to see those feelings, is so strong. What if I show weakness? After 5 years of therapy, I am just beginning to feel a little less afraid to show my feelings. But the anxiety and panic from just the thought of breaking down, is sometimes greater than the knowledge that it is normal to have feelings. Judging yourself is just so hard to stop. Learning to practice mindfulness and letting things “be” is also helping. Thanks Tina………..I can really relate to Larry.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      August 18, 2012 - 9:42 am Reply

      Only certain emotions were expressed in my house when I was growing up, so your comment resonates with me. Beliefs based on experience are stronger than beliefs based on … well, just beliefs. So having new and different experiences is the key to laying a new foundation and feeling secure in it.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rosie! I’m positive I’m not the only one who can relate to what you said. I’m going offline for a while, but will check in again next week.

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